Nature–Culture–Sustainability Studies

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Climate Futures, Design and the Just Transition II | Design Politics, Aesthetics and the Green New Deal


Thursday, December 5

RISD Auditorium

Over the last two years the Green New Deal has come to define how we might think about just post-carbon transition in the United States. While denounced by some conservatives and liberal ecomodernists as implausible and unhelpful and dismissed by assorted eco-misanthropes as too little, too late, it still stands as the only game in town for thinking about post-carbon futures. This symposium seeks to shine a constructive but also critical light on the potentialities but also the limitations of the Green New Deal as a political, design, cultural, technological and aesthetic discourse and praxis.

The Green New Deal has generated a rich series of policy debates about the ways in which just transitions could be stimulated and enacted. It has served as a reminder of the many admirable ways in which the old New Deal defined a vision of public works and public design, infrastructure and planning for the public good. However, the original New Deal was also marked by multiple exclusions and complicated racial, gender and labor politics. It worked with a political imaginary largely bounded by the nation state and its more radical ambitions were ultimately contained and contained. A Green New Deal will have to mobilize against racial capitalism and a resurgent White supremacy in very different ways to the old New Deal. It will have to address a global climate emergency that pays no regard to borders and boundaries. It will have to be frank about the limits of public spirited liberalism and honestly confront the racial and often exclusionary history of bourgeois environmentalism in the United States. It will also have to open up discussions about labor friendly socio-technical and political design pathways to post carbon futures in ways that might force us to move beyond the aesthetic and design horizons of 1970s environmentalisms without tumbling back into technocratic ecomodernism.

If the policy context that could inform a Green New Deal is slowly coming into view, the cultural, aesthetic, socio-technological or design politics that could further support and radicalize a new Green New Deal is much less in evidence. This could stand as a significant limitation to further progress given that we know that just transitions to post-carbon futures are not just going to emerge though legislation alone nor will they be built through fear of extinction, declarations of the need for eco-austerity. Diverse publics will have to be mobilized at affective, cultural and political level to resist White Supremacy, military Malthusianism and climate chaos. A sense of political and creative agency, desire and perhaps even joy in the opportunities that exist for democratically designing and redesigning our worlds will all be central for enacting just post-carbon futures. The just transition understood as the Green New Deal or otherwise will have to be imagined and built, fabricated and realized, coded and created. Politicized processes of making, of prefiguring, that occur again and again and again are going to be constitutive features of the attempt to build survivable futures on a rapidly warming planet. New forms of art and cultural production, new modes of solidarity and care will be required to disarm the fatalists and the fanatics. This symposium seeks to consider how we might think beyond doomster and denialists, beyond technocrats and technophobes to constructive creative political ecologies for the future.